Christmas part 2: Table Mountain (Cherry Jam, IV 5.8+)

Table Mountain (l)

Table Mountain (l)

Rolling into Tucson sometime around midnight, we crashed at a pseudo-trailhead in a residential section at the base of Table Mountain, then got a semi-early start on what seemed like a reasonable day: Cherry Jam, “6 pitches of wonderful climbing” with a 2-1/2 hour approach. Fortunately we both brought headlamps this time, since Cherry Jam turned out to be a mediocre climb with a long approach and a hideous descent involving multiple wet rappels and a steep desert bushwhack. There is doubtless some great climbing in the Mount Lemmon area, but Cherry Jam ain’t it.

The approach, taking about the advertised 2-1/2 hours, started on a well-ducked and -used trail through a saguaro forest. It eventually deteriorated into a not-entirely-horrible bushwhack through various desert vegetation. Jen got a bit too friendly with some cactus, but it mostly painless. I led the first pitch, most of a rope-length spent tunneling through oak-brush to a belay below a short cruxy section. The rock was solid, though often lichen-y or polished, which took a bit of getting used to.

Jen led the second pitch, including the move for which the climb is named: a short, chest-width traverse well-protected by a huge angle piton. She left her pack and helmet behind in the process, and ended up doing a short pendulum off the angle piton to bypass the jam. I collected her pack and helmet, then had to leave the gear behind and haul it to execute the move. I managed to pull it off — barely — by inserting myself horizontally head-first, taking a deep breath to wedge my chest, then pivoting to gain purchase on the left wall.

There were, I think, three more pitches, two with some steep climbing on big, positive holds, and one more of easy scrambling to the summit. We topped out a bit before sunset, and regretted not bringing more food and gear to take advantage of the well-built fireplace on the summit. There are at least two steep gullies southwest of the summit. We chose the second, and found brush, water, and several bolted rap anchors. The gully opened up shortly after we donned headlamps, but the terrain only got worse, with a loose, steep mixture of oak-brush, cactus, and various species of yucca. There’s a reason it’s called “alpinism” and not “desertism”.

We eventually reached the car, re-stocked on food and water, picked up some bad drive-through burritos, and got the hell away from Mount Lemmon.

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